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Report Finds Parents Want Help Deciding How To Spend Quality Family Time

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A new national poll found that parents spend on average almost nine hours a day with their children, but more than half aren't sure how to make the most of the time they have as a family.

The National Center for Families and Learning (NCFL) released the Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults (including 454 parents) on Wednesday. The Louisville, Ky.,-based group also released an accompanying report that examines how families spend their time together. The online survey was conducted last October.

For working parents, the average time they spend with their children drops to almost seven hours a day. But the vast majority of parents (9 out of 10) overwhelmingly believe that they spend quality time with their children. The poll reveals that some of the activities parents and their children are doing together on a "regular basis" include:

  • TV (91 percent)
  • Shopping and errands (82 percent)
  • Scheduled activity time, such as team sports (65 percent)
  • Waiting, in line, or for a bus, for example (52 percent)

I've never considered shopping for groceries or watching TV as meaningful moments spent with my young children, however I understand that might change considerably when my sons enter their teen years. And most parents are missing in action during practices because the coaches manage the kids.

According to the poll, the most time American families spend together is during dinner, with 95 percent of parents saying they spend that time with their children. The "3 Bs," bedtime (87 percent), bath time (65 percent), and breakfast (87 percent), along with reading and game playing are also cited by parents as opportunities to spend time with their children.

Carving out quality family time in the midst of school, work, and the growing cavalcade of after-school activities often requires an advanced management degree. The National Center for Families and Learning (NCFL) and Toyota used the poll results to develop the Family Time Machine, a website to give parents and children creative and educational ideas to best use the precious minutes and hours that they are together.

Emily Kirkpatrick, vice president of NCFL, said in the report that it is vital that parents incorporate learning into their day-to-day routines rather than simply focus on homework. A survey released by the NCFL last fall found that most parents don't understand the subject matter when they are trying to help child with homework.

"Because we know that struggling to offer homework help has long been a pain-point for many parents," Kilpatrick said in the report, "it's our hope that realizing other moments you spend together provide equally important opportunities which can make the learning process less intimidating—and more fun—for parents and students alike."

The poll also found that more than a third of parents (37 percent) are not comfortable helping their children learn outside the classroom. From the classic "I Spy" game to filming mini-movie re-enactments in your car with your cell phone, the Family Time Machine forces moms and dads to face those fears of academic inadequacy head on.

One of my favorite family-time games involves asking my boys to identify words starting with each letter of the alphabet. (For the record, "O" stands for Oprah in my family.) 

The only downside: The Family Time Machine does not include the use of a DeLorean.

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